E&H Students, Local 4th Graders Explore Forest Preserve
Emory & Henry College students joined local elementary students Tuesday in a celebration of Earth Week by exploring part of a 92-acre forest preservation, which was donated recently to the College.
Twenty-one fourth-graders from Valley Institute Elementary School, guided by a half-dozen E&H students, scaled a tall hillside on the land, which was bequeathed to the College by the late Grace Rust.
As they hiked students learned about wildflowers and other forest vegetation, and about the value of forests as a habitat for animals and as a means for cleaning the air. The theme of the Earth Week outing was “Respect for Natural Places.”
Beverley Fifer, principal at Valley Institute and a member of the E&H Class of 1973, praised her alma mater for its efforts to raise awareness among young people about the environment. Although she will be retiring soon, Fifer said she looked forward to participating with students in future field trips.
Emory & Henry will continue to use the hilly preserve for research and education. In addition to conducting field trips for elementary and high school students, Emory & Henry students will use the preserve to study forest carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat quality and geological mapping.
Grace Rust, who died at age 99, was a first-grade teacher for 41 years who valued both wildlife and education. “Preserving this land as a green space for generations to enjoy was very important to her,” said Dr. Ed Davis, an E&H professor of geography and environmental science.
The land was settled in the 1840s by Jeremiah Rust. The property eventually passed to Willy Garnett Rust, Grace’s husband, who grew up on the land before moving to Ohio. He died in 1974, leaving the land to his widow.
“She would be so excited to see these children – to see her will fulfilled like this,” said Jim Moody, a distant cousin to Willy Rust who was present for Tuesday’s dedication of the forest preserve.
Also present for the event were Neal Kilgore, conservation easement specialist for the Virginia Outdoors Foundation; Tammy Williams, incoming principal at Valley Institute; and Kelly Persiani, fourth grade teacher at Valley Institute.
“There’s something that we lose when something green like this gets taken away forever,” said Kilgore. “We need to save enough green space that we can have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink and just places to recharge our spiritual batteries.”